Mobile DTV gets up to speed (with video)
Some 12 years after it arrived in homes, digital television is ready to go outside them.
A mobile variant of DTV technology geared for on-the-go viewing made a quiet debut several weeks ago. So-called MDTV--unlike the portable DTV sets that debuted a few years ago--works even when you're moving.
But there are trade-offs, as I've seen while testing a Dell netbook with a prototype Mobile DTV receiver and a shipping LG portable DVD player. First of all, MDTV is not high-definition TV, nor is it DTV as you know it. You don't get all of the over-the-air channels, but you can get some that aren't over the air.
Most of those are free--including two audio-only offerings, local public-radio stations WAMU and WETA--but some, such as Food Network, Comedy Central, Fox News and MSNBC, require subscriptions and can only be viewed on hardware supporting these "conditional" channels. The netbook fell into that category; the DVD player and other MDTV devices on sale today do not.
Since I prefer to cover things you can actually use, I picked the LG player, the $250 DP570MH, for this week's review. (Amazon has discounted it to $130, which may something about the technology's reception so far).
As you can see in the video, MDTV really does work, even on a Metro train clocking 60 miles an hour above ground on the Orange Line. (I was able to tune in at even faster speeds on the Acela Express outside Union Station in October.) This reopens some usage scenarios that had been closed in the digital transition, such as watching the news on the ride home or handing a portable set to the kids in the back seat.
The LG player picked up a reasonable but not overwhelming majority of the stations available. In a first try, it tuned in the mobile signals of NBC affiliate WRC, Fox affiliate WTTG, Univision's WFDC, PBS station WHUT and independent broadcasters WNVC (also known as Mhz Networks) and WPXW. On a second test, it also tuned in CBS affiliate WUSA but continued to miss WDCA.
Reception faded as we got farther out on Metro--and just as with regular DTV, a weak mobile DTV signal quickly becomes unwatchable as the picture breaks into blocks or cuts out entirely.
Will MDTV work where you live, work or in between? That will involve some guesswork. The site set up by Open Mobile Video Coalition, an industry group, doesn't offer coverage maps--despite occupying an "mdtvsignalmap.com" domain name--and such third-party coverage sites as TV Fool don't report MDTV access yet.
Mobile DTV reception didn't seem to hurt the LG player's battery life that much; it stayed on WUSA's signal for 4 hours and 23 minutes. But a wider choice of hardware, from other portable video players to add-ons for computers to mobile phones, wouldn't hurt the technology's appeal. So would its use in radios to allow listening to the audio of TV stations--a request I keep getting from readers, but one which no manufacturer appears interested in fulfilling.
For earlier episodes, such as last week's review of the Barnes & Noble NookColor, see our video channel.
Does MDTV have any appeal to you? Or is your idea of TV to go consist of watching YouTube, Hulu Plus or any other Internet video source on a smartphone or a tablet?
Posted by: davidhoffman1062 | December 15, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse